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Court Requires Quick Turnaround for Equity in NM's Public Schools

New Mexico's public schools ranked as second-worst in the country in 2018, but a successful lawsuit will require the state to spend more money on at-risk students. (children.org)
New Mexico's public schools ranked as second-worst in the country in 2018, but a successful lawsuit will require the state to spend more money on at-risk students. (children.org)
July 24, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico has to create a plan for how to create more equitable funding for its public schools, after a judge ruled the state has been unconstitutionally depriving at-risk students of a quality education.

Education advocates are calling it a win for New Mexico children, and say work needs to begin immediately on a plan to serve all the state's public-school children.

Gail Evans, lead counsel with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, says the court decision last Friday recognized that at-risk students are currently deprived of good education.

The judge gave New Mexico until April to come up with the plan, meaning lawmakers will have to find new resources. Evans says it's a short window of time, considering the 2018 elections will see many changes in the state's political landscape.

"We're going to have a new governor, and therefore a new secretary of the Public Education Department, and I think that's partly why the court has said you have until April; you know, the legislative session starts in January," she explains.

The Center on Law and Poverty was among several nonprofits that argued that the state's funding formula fails to serve Native American students and others at the margins of the educational system.

There's been no word as to whether Republican Gov. Susana Martinez will direct the Public Education Department to appeal the court's decision, required within 28 days of the ruling.

For decades, says Evans, education-advocacy groups have asked the New Mexico Legislature for additional money to better serve at-risk children with more pre-K programs, summer school and better pay for teachers. She says it's no secret that New Mexico's schools consistently rank near or at the bottom of quality education, and the state's graduation rate is one of the lowest in the nation.

Evans says every student who attends the state's public schools has a right to be college and career-ready.

"Look, we know what works, and I think with this decision it's quite clear that the state is going to have to provide the programming that works to all the children that need them," she says.

In her ruling, District Judge Sarah Singleton noted that schools with low-paid, entry-level teachers are also those with large numbers of students living in poverty, a factor linked to reduced academic achievement.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM